Plotting With Post-it Notes

There’s a three-door closet in my office. At some point early in my writing career, it occurred to me that this closet would be particularly useful for creating a storyboard as I constructed my novels. Each door represented one act in the story.

I’m a hybrid plotter/pantser. I think of my method more as a process of iterative writing, and the storyboard works well for me. First, I come up with a general plot idea, post the first scenes on the storyboard, and start writing. Each day, I stand in front of the storyboard and think about how the story is developing. I decide on additional scenes, post them, write them, and repeat the process.

Here’s a brief summary of the post-it note storyboard I created for my fourth novel.

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Once I decided on the first scene and a few characters, I set the storyboard up.. It was laid out horizontally, left to right. I use different colors to represent different elements of the story. Here’s a reconstruction of the initial setup for my WIP with definitions added for each color.

The three acts are in orange. The purple notes are plot points (e.g., hook, inciting incident.) The story is mainly written in first person, so the white notes are for those scenes. There are a few flashback scenes that are denoted by light pink. There has to be a fair amount of real estate for the white and light pink notes since scenes are the greatest part of the.storyboard.

Characters are in dark pink.

With this book, I had the idea to note particular places where I wanted the reader to wonder what’s going on (e.g., Why is she so mad? Why would thieves steal something of so little value?) I call those Suspense points, and they’re in blue.

I also wanted to mark where information is revealed to the reader. (e.g., Ah, that’s why he’s so distant.) Those Reveal notes are light green.

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I add or change the plot to satisfy something I’ve discovered, then I continue to write. Sometimes I decide on an ending before I’ve figured out all the details in Act 2. In the picture below, I’ve defined all the characters and have Act 1 pretty much under control. I’ve added scenes for Act 3, and I’ve begun work on the middle. Most of the purple plot points have been put in place.

This cycle continues until I think the story is completely fleshed out.

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Here’s the storyboard as it appeared when I was close to completing the first draft.

You can see I added a couple of yellow post-it notes to the right-hand door. These are possible themes for the book.

At this point, the story is well-defined in my head, and I won’t bother changing the notes on the doors.

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There are several reasons I like the storyboard.

  1. I like seeing the entire story laid out in front of me as I’m building it. I can reacquaint myself with the sequence of events in just a few minutes.
  2. It helps me spot places where a new scene should be inserted or others should be rearranged.
  3. Moving things around is fast and easy.
  4. There’s something satisfying about the tactile nature of jotting down a note and adding it to the story or moving a note from one place to another.
  5. i can design my storyboard the way I want it without having to adapt it to an app.

There are ways to do this electronically. I work in Scrivener, and there’s a corkboard feature that displays scenes on an electronic corkboard. I suspect there are apps that let you lay out the entire story as I did here, but I can’t see the “big picture” without having a big space to lay it out on.


So TKZers: How do you plot your stories? Are you a plotter or pantser? Do you use an outline or some kind of index card layout to organize your thoughts?